His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama explains how his tradition, Madhyamika Buddhism, understands the interconnectedness of all that exists. Ten Del or "dependent origination" refers to three aspects of reality: each thing or event is produced by a web of causes and conditions, parts cannot exist without wholes and vice versa, and things have identity only in relation to each other.
According to [the concept of ten del,
or dependent origination articulated by the Madhyamika school of Buddhist philosophy] we can understand how things and events come to be in three different ways. At the first level, the principle of cause and effect, whereby all things and events arise in dependence on a complex web of interrelated causes and conditions, is invoked. This suggests that no thing or event can be construed as capable of coming into, or remaining in, existence by itself. For example, if I take some clay and mold it, I can bring a pot into being. The pot exists as an effect of my actions. At the same time, it is also the effect of a myriad of other causes and conditions. These include the combination of clay and water to form its raw material. Beyond this, we can point to the coming together of the molecules, the atoms, and other minute particles which form these constituents (which are themselves dependent on innumerable other factors). Then there are the circumstances leading up to my decision to make a pot. And there are the co-operative conditions of my actions as I give shape to the clay. All these different factors make it clear that my pot cannot come into existence independently of its causes and conditions. Rather it is dependently originated.On the second level, ten del
can be understood in terms of the mutual dependence which exists between parts and whole. Without parts, there can be no whole; without a whole, the concept of parts makes no sense. The idea of "whole" is predicated on parts, but these parts themselves must be considered to be wholes comprised of their own parts. On the third level, all phenomena can be understood to be dependently originated because, when we analyze them, we find that, ultimately, they lack independent identity. This can be understood from the way in which we refer to certain phenomena. For example, the words "action" and "agent" presuppose one another. So do "parent" and "child." Someone is a parent only because he or she has children. Likewise, a daughter or son is so called only in relation to them having parents. . . . When we come to see that everything we perceive and experience arises as a result of an indefinite series of interrelated causes and conditions, our whole perspective changes. We begin to see that the universe we inhabit can be understood in terms of a living organism where each cell works in balanced cooperation with every other cell to sustain the whole. If then, just one of these cells is harmed, as when disease strikes, that balance is harmed and there is danger to the whole. This, in turn, suggests that our individual well-being is intimaely connected both with that of all others and with the environment within which we live. It also becomes apparent that our every action, our every deed, word, and thought, no matter how slight or inconsequential it may seem, has an implication not only for ourselves but for others, too.Furthermore, when we view reality in terms of dependent origination, it draws us away from our usual tendency to see things and events in terms of solid, independent, discrete entities. This is helpful because it is this tendency which causes us to exaggerate one or two aspects of our experience and make them representative of the whole reality of a given situation while ignoring its wider complexities.Such an understanding of reality as suggested by this concept of dependent origination also presents us with a significant challenge. It challenges us to see things and events less in terms of black and white and more in terms of a complex interlinking of relationships, which are hard to pin down. And it makes it difficult to speak in terms of absolutes.You will find the remainder of this essay in Chapter Three, "The Nature of Reality" in the book Ethics for the New Millenium.